+1 415 842 4822 mail@channelmeister.com

Doves, Hawks and other animals – The Daily PPILL #42

I have always been fascinated by Game Theory.

I haven’t been able to practice it that much, because -while you would argue that it could be used everywhere- the scenarios in life where it is possible to take a step back and theorize, are few. The theoretical aspects of it are also complicated enough sometimes and make my head spin. But I still love it and I think that understanding game theory can be, if not of immediate advantage, at least a reasoning platform for many daily issues.

This post is longer than my usual daily post, but I did not want to shortchange it. So instead of writing a short post, let’s try this: I wrote a longer post, with a short summary of the idea upfront. Here is the summary:

The mathematician John Maynard Smith conducted a number of thought experiments, simulating them on a computer. In those experiments, he defined different “personalities”, with different aggression profiles. He came up with Doves, Hawks, Bullies, Retaliators and Prober-Retaliators.

What he found in his experiments is that all the “extreme” personalities (either the too aggressive, or the completely submissive), are unstable, meaning that even though circumstances can be forced when one or the other predominates, eventually the situation changes to something else.

But there was only one that resulted in a stable status: when most of the population was a Retaliator. This particular personality is the personification of the “speak softly and carry a big stick” saying. They generally act peacefully and try to resolve differences without violence, that is unless they are attacked. Then they retaliate.

There is a reason why we ended up in the current state of things during and after the cold war.

END OF THE SUMMARY. If you are interested in the details, and perhaps the moral of the story, keep reading.

I am currently listening to the audio version of Richard Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene”, a book about evolution, and when possible, taking notes on the e-book version. The premise of the book is that genes want to survive and thrive, and everything that happens around them, in their so-called “survival machines” (that includes us), serves that purpose.

But I am not getting into the details of evolution in this article. I just thought that a particular passage of the book can perhaps be of use for all of us in understanding current events, and I offer it in that way. If you please, read through this and draw your own conclusions.

In the book, Dawkins describes a hypothetical experiment drawn up by Maynard Smith. The experiment is described as follows:

“Any individual of our hypothetical population is classified as a Hawk or a Dove. Hawks always fight as hard and as unrestrainedly as they can, retreating only when seriously injured. Doves merely threaten in a dignified conventional way, never hurting anybody. If a hawk fights a dove the dove quickly runs away, and so does not get hurt. If a hawk fights a hawk they go on until one of them is seriously injured or dead. If a dove meets a dove nobody gets hurt; they go on posturing at each other for a long time until one of them tires or decides not to bother any more, and therefore backs down. “

Furthermore, they add a few other “personalities”:

“A more complex strategy is called Retaliator.

A retaliator plays like a dove at the beginning of every fight. If his opponent attacks him, however, he retaliates. In other words, a retaliator behaves like a hawk when he is attacked by a hawk, and like a dove when he meets a dove. When he meets another retaliator he plays like a dove. A retaliator is a conditional strategist.

Another conditional strategist is called Bully.

A bully goes around behaving like a hawk until somebody hits back. Then he immediately runs away.

An yet one more:

“another conditional strategist is Prober-retaliator.

A prober-retaliator is basically like a retaliator, but he occasionally tries a brief experimental escalation of the contest. He persists in this hawk-like behaviour if his opponent does not fight back. If, on the other hand, his opponent does fight back he reverts to conventional threatening like a dove. If he is attacked, he
retaliates just like an ordinary retaliator.”

Are we good? So we got Dove, the pacifist posturer; the Hawk, the one who’s always looking for a fight; the Retaliator, who is usually a good guy, until you cross him; and then the Bully, who is just abusing and threatening everybody until meets someone who’s the real deal and he retreats. The prober-retaliator is almost just like a Retaliator that goes Bully sometimes.

There are three important aspects as well that factor into the experiment, and these are:

  • No individual can tell beforehand -that is, before engaging in a fight- what kind of opponent do they face.
  • No individual can remember previous fights, so fighting an opponent just to uncover them won’t work, because there is no way to use that information again.
  • Finally, as a matter of convenience and simplification, all individuals are equally strong.

Now, when it becomes really interesting is when they put all these in a computer simulator and let it run. Here is what they observe:

“If all the five strategies I have mentioned are turned loose upon one another in a computer simulation, only one of them, retaliator, emerges as evolutionarily stable. Prober-retaliator is nearly stable. Dove is not stable, because a population of doves would be invaded by hawks and bullies. Hawk is not stable, because a population of hawks would be invaded by doves and bullies. Bully is not stable, because a population of bullies would be invaded by hawks. In a population of retaliators, no other strategy would invade, since there is no other strategy that does better than retaliator itself. However, dove does equally well in a population of retaliators. This means that, other things being equal, the numbers of doves could slowly drift upwards.”

So Hawks face a problem. While as an individual, they may be in a good position for survival, as a group, it is a terrible strategy. Remember that “if a hawk fights a hawk they go on until one of them is seriously injured or dead”, so potentially, after having fought all the doves, a population of only Hawks would decrease geometrically, until only one is left.

An interesting and somewhat counterintuitive outcome is the survival of the doves in a population of retaliators. Since all retaliators behave at first like doves in a confrontation, no individual can tell at first whether they are facing a dove or a retaliator. Under this condition, doves can easily disguise themselves.

Obviously, these are very simplified models and they assume that every individual acts on their own behalf, well, individually. There are no alliances. Also, the fact that in reality, some individuals can be way stronger than others, radically changes some of the dynamics.

In any case, for us, and considering the current events, every dove you see out there may be really a retaliator, and a Hawk, may just be a bully.

As originally published at The ChannelMeister
on April 5, 2022. Please consider sharing and subscribing HERE.
The Daily PPILL is my personal daily blog project. PPILL stands for Purpose, Process, Innovation, Leverage, and Leadership; the themes that I write about, and in my view, indispensable ingredients of any great initiative.

Huba Rostonics is a GTM and Business Strategy expert, offering services to Mid-Market, Enterprise, and Start-Ups. To learn more please schedule an exploratory call

Subscribe to The Daily PPILL

Sign up to get the very next Daily PPILL from The Channelmeister

Please wait...

Thank you!

You have successfully joined the subscriber list.

Whitelist mail@channelmeister.com and if you are using gmail, move my next email to "Primary" to ensure delivery.

Artificial Trust – The Daily PPILL #275

I have been experimenting with ChatGPT lately, trying to find some useful application for it. In that process, I try to run some of my searches both through a search engine and also ask the bot for it. In one of my last tests, I asked ChatGPT to cite its sources, and she did, giving me a few research papers with their authors. When I couldn't...

Agency – The Daily PPILL #274

To change behavior, there must be a certain degree of agency. If there is no influence in the outcome, there is no point to change. The residents of my current city are great. Rugged, hard working and mostly respectful of their fellow human beings. But when you move to a different city, one of the things you need to get accustomed to, is the way...

Listening to criticism – The Daily PPILL #273

This is one of the most sound advice I have heard, when it comes to dealing with criticism. I heard it from non other than Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn. Not everybody comes from the same frame of reference, and they interpret things differently. So it helps to check whether if their judgement is valid under the current...

Services delivery, not enough, and maybe too much – The Daily PPILL #272

In so many of my conversations about services delivery, I hear well smart, capable, and hard-working professionals describe how they are setup to resolve service tickets in a short time, and how they always strive to deliver the services in the way they were promised to the customer. I congratulate them. Building a responsive technical support...

Virtually Accepted – The Daily PPILL #271

Some innovations that are appearing over the horizon look to most us someway weird. We go “no way”. We presume they are fads and we’ll never use them. It always have been like that. Just a few years ago, the answer that met some of these innovations went something like this: PC: “What for?” email: “Who would I email? I don’t know anybody with an...

Better than a Post-Mortem – The Daily PPILL #270

You probably know what a post-mortem is, right? That's when we failed (whatever that means), and in order to learn from it and to give it our best effort so that it never happens again, we tease out every single detail of what went wrong. Then there is the PRE-mortem, which serves a different purpose. A pre-mortem can help us to avoid failure,...

Storing energy in cryptocurrency – The Daily PPILL #269

You may have already heard about the large amounts of energy that Bitcoin miners utilize in the process of working on the blockchain and spitting out another coin, or "mining" it. Recently, I was introduced to an ingenious way of using this for stabilizing the energy supply of green sources. In a nutshell, how it works is that renewable energy...

Breaking Bread – The Daily PPILL #268

We have to nourish our bodies, but since ancient times, there is something about sharing a meal that makes us more human. Most species compete for the food available, with the exception of small offspring. But we humans do something remarkable: we share. And together with what we share on the table, we share stories, and we check-in with each...

Questions and Answers – The Daily PPILL #267

We see the world through our own experience. There is no way around it. As a photographer, one of the things I learned, is that no two photographers can ever get exactly the same image, as they will never be able to stand in the same place, at the same time. Either the angle they are taking the shot, or whatever they are photographing will not be...

DST – The Daily PPILL #266

I used to think that Daylight Savings Time was just the way things were done in this country. I didn't pause to think that there could be a different way forward. Not that I like the sun setting at 6 PM during the winter, but I always hated getting up during the summer in complete darkness. We may got a chance now to do away with it. Yes, we just...

Not imperfect – The Daily PPILL #265

In a time where there are some layoffs going on, I know some of our colleagues may have been affected. There is a tendency to ostracize those who are going through this ordeal, and the truth is that, in our economy, it happens cyclically with every boom and bust cycle. The economic engine revs up, and then slows down, which for most companies...

Customer Success and the Layer 8 error (Repeat) – The Daily PPILL #264

In a world where products are increasingly being replaced by services, it is important to understand the role that customer service plays and how it can affect the rate of user attrition. In the XaaS universe, where everything is offered on a monthly payment basis, the only metric that really matters to measure the performance of a company is the...

A ride to the airport – The Daily PPILL #263

Whenever the cost is not significant, I behave like an early adopter. That's why I started using LinkedIn in 2002, and I continue to check out whatever tech innovation shows up that I can check out for a nominal fee, or for free. So when I was for a few days in Phoenix, Arizona; I couldn't resist to test out Waymo. They have been operating a...

“Sorry, we don’t do that” – The Daily PPILL #262

If you are working on something truly innovative, and you insert the word "disruptive" multiple times in your speech when you are describing your product or service, you may have to make some compromises. It may sound obvious, but here is Uber as an example: You need to have a smartphone with a data connection and GPS capability You need to...

Ready to go (always) – The Daily PPILL #261

Dogs are fantastic animals, and they give us so much. Company is one of those things. The also ground us, make us appreciate the moment, the simple things. If you take a dog for a walk, you cannot rush it, you have to stop, let it in; and only then continue. But the greatest thing about dogs is that they are always ready to go, They always look...

Not even plastic in the wallet – The Daily PPILL #260

On a recent business trip, I had one setback that I have never had before. It is quite embarrassing, but after logging about 1.4M miles on just one airline, on a domestic trip, I lost my wallet. The last time I remember having it in my hands, was in seat 3C, and definitely when I ordered a Latte at the airport at 4:00 in the morning. There are a...

Lipstick on a pig – The Daily PPILL #259

I was chatting with a Channel Partner's sales person a few days ago. This particular gentleman has been in the business for decades, and probably have seen it all. When we started talking about co-selling with the vendor, the topic of "account mapping" (the practice of finding accounts, that belong to the partner's customer base, that could be a...

Upgrade cycle – The Daily PPILL #258

Most days I go through a morning ritual of updating the apps on my phone. It is a rare day when there are not at least four or five apps with a new release. EVERY DAY. Granted, there are hundreds of apps on my device; and the only one at fault for this is me, for installing all those "in case I need it" apps; but still, seems like it is awfully...

The PRO – The Daily PPILL #257

They are a pro. But what kind of pro? It is not about charging for what you do. There is the PROficient pro. The one that at a technical level is capable of delivering quality work. The pro that has the skills. The pro that has gone through the training, and has put in the hours. The proficient pro has all the right to charge the market rate....

Totally Over the Top (OTT) – The Daily PPILL #256

Some of my Mobile World Congress-going friends may yawn at this one, but a few days ago, Thierry Breton, the European Internal Market and Industry Commissioner brought up again, the imbalance on how many tech giants like Google and Netflix (sometimes called over-the-top services), benefit from the existence of high speed networks, and how they...

Serendipity – The Daily PPILL #255

The hardest problem, is to figure out things. Once we know how things work, we just have to go through the motions and produce an output. Much harder is when we face we the uncertain, when we don't know exactly how things work, and figuring out things is part of the job. Running experiments is the only way to learn, and the rewards are also...

Catnap – The Daily PPILL #254

Cats don't train. Don't lift weights. They do yoga stretches, but not like reps, just one, or two. And then, when something pikes their interest, they go into an explosive display of motion. Once done, they are back to napping. We are not cats. We can't just nap and launch into acrobatics, but wouldn't that be cool?

The exclusion challenge – The Daily PPILL #253

Large companies usually build a portfolio of products. That's how they grow to become large, by acquisitions or by developing their own new products. After years, in contrast with startups that focus typically on just one product, they almost become known for the things they don't do. And this poses a challenge for their next acquisition or...

My podcast list on rotation – The Daily PPILL #252

I think Podcasts are fantastic thing. They allow for getting quality and in-depth content on topics as obscure as we chose. To me, they are a great resource for information, learning, and entertainment. A few days back, my nephew told me that he did not listen to Podcasts mostly because he haven't had the time to pick a few, and asked me which...

The space in the middle – The Daily PPILL #251

Nothing is either black or white, red or blue. When we categorize things, what happens in the spaces between? Is someone who has $999,999 in the bank less a millionaire than someone holding $1,000,001? Same thing happens to -for example- partner categories. The question is, how hard or painful are we making it for those at the edges?
%d bloggers like this: